PRO works to improve the image of portable restrooms and build respect for the industry
Portable restroom operator and soccer mom Andrea Booker has sometimes had to use portable restrooms that she felt were less than acceptable.
“I’ve gone to many a soccer tournament that utilized portable restrooms, and many times I’ve been less than satisfied — to say the least — with my personal experience,” says Booker, owner of Crossroads Portables in Belding, Michigan, a city of about 5,700 that’s located 2 1/2 hours northwest of Detroit. Her family-owned business has 47 portable restrooms (most by Five Peaks) and 10 wheelchair-accessible units.
Because she’s seen the worst, she strives to offer the best. She founded her business just two years ago, but already she has learned one of the key goals of the business — working to alleviate the stigma of portable restrooms.
“We do our best to be professional in how we present ourselves to the public, including our personal appearance and the state of our units and servicing equipment.”
It’s an enlightened view for Booker, a relative newcomer to the industry. The former CEO of the Montcalm County Association of Realtors was hired part time a few years ago to do scheduling, invoicing and collections for a portable sanitation company. “Toward the tail end of the season, their portable restroom route driver quit, so I was given a crash course and finished up the season for them.
“In that short period of time running the route, I found that I enjoyed it,” she says. “Life for me is often crazy busy (but) while behind the wheel of a portable restroom rig, that’s all I can do. No mom/wife; no coaching; no school board; no day job; no this, that or the other thing … for me, delivery and servicing portable restrooms is almost therapeutic.”
Soon after, she and her family decided to start their own portable restroom business in Booker’s hometown of Belding.
“I’ve always had a business mind, having multiple home-based businesses through the years,” she says. “I’ve always known that the best person I could count on for success would always be myself.”
Initially, Booker’s goal was to have three trucks in three years with 300 units, but “I quickly learned that my goal was not realistic with my current available energies.”
On a typical route day, Booker runs solo, although sometimes her husband and 17-year-old daughter, Sydney, ride along. “It’s awesome to have my family be a part of this crazy business venture,” she says. “They’re all super supportive, and I couldn’t do what I do without them.”
She calls her son, Blake, 15, her “right-hand man when it comes to setting up and servicing units; he’s very intuitive to what I need, when I need it,” she admits. “Our goal is someday Blake may want to take over the business, but we’ll see. He wants to be a professional soccer player, not a professional pump truck driver.”
Squelching the stigma
Booker’s 6-year-old son, Mason, calls portable restrooms “porter potties.” And while it may be cute when a child calls them that, Booker is adamant that the public and the industry itself stop calling units “porta-potties.”
“Sometimes I still catch myself … but I usually try to correct myself,” says Booker. “Calling the units by their proper name helps to lay the foundation of educating our customers that units are more than a piece of plastic people need to use on occasion.
“Step two is proving to the customer that you can be different. Each and every time we deliver a unit that is clean, sanitized, pleasant smelling, and in good repair, we continue the process of ending the stigma of ‘Ewww! I have to use that?!’
“How many times have you gone to a festival and asked the person coming out of the units, ‘Hey, how bad is it?’”
Booker’s goal is to have that person coming out exclaiming how clean the unit was before that question even comes up.
“Our number one goal in business is to have our customers shouting from the rooftops how nice our unit was; and that takes time, effort and the integrity to say, ‘Hey, I’m tired, it’s hot and I don’t really want to be here … but this customer deserves a high level of service just like our other customers.”
By being a business owner, Booker says, “I’ve made a promise to do the best I can do at all turns. Do things sometimes come up that prevent me from doing my best? Sure, I’m human. But the key is using that as a learning opportunity next time.”
Booker believes that poor service and cleanliness are two reasons the portable restroom industry get a bad rap. Another is vandalism, something she vocally rallies against.
“I’m not shy about advocating in terms of vandalism (in the industry),” she says. “In early August, I went live on Facebook to share my frustrations with one of our ADA units being tipped over at a county park.
“As of Sept. 18, 2017, it was shared 59 times, reached 14,817 people and had more than 7,000 views. My goal was to encourage people to do something when they see something. If we don’t advocate for respect of our units, who will?”
And in just a few short years in the industry, she hopes even long-time veterans will realize that it all comes down to respect and professionalism — on their parts first.
She firmly believes, “In order for the industry to be treated with respect and professionalism, we need to treat it the same way.”